Pensioners have been warned the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is checking thousands of their bank statements following a huge rise in fraud.

The DWP revealed that there were £520 million in Pension Credit overpayments paid out in the last financial year, an increase of £190 million from the previous year.

Those overpayments included a £90 million increase in the amount of money lost to fraud, as the figure hit £210 million, described as “statistically significant” by the DWP.

The main causes are believed to be the under-declaration of financial assets and extended overseas stays.

The Work and Pensions Committee recently heard that benefit overpayments have risen by £1.4 billion, from £8.3 billion to £9.7 billion, in the past financial year.

As a result of the increase in overpayments, the DWP has been looking at statements of recipients to ensure they are receiving legitimate payments.

DWP permanent secretary Peter Schofield told the committee: “It is not that we know what is going on with every single person who is claiming Pension Credit. Across the benefit system we do a sample of about 15,000 cases selecting a number of benefits that we do every year and some we do only now and again.

"Pension Credit is one that we looked at this year. We sampled a number of people who were claiming Pension Credit and we said: 'Right, we are going to look at your claim. We are going to go through it. You are claiming on this basis for this amount. This tells us for example that you do not have income coming in from capital to a large extent. Let us understand that. We need to see your bank account.'

"Off the back of that sample, we will then identify a certain number of people within Pension Credit who are receiving an overpayment. We extrapolate that out across the whole of the Pension Credit caseload and the percentage of Pension Credit overpayment was 9.7 per cent.

"More than half of that was accounted for by capital, so people had more than they were allowed in terms of savings to claim Pension Credit or they were abroad for a period of time that you are not allowed to claim Pension Credit. That then played into our fraud and overpayment statistics.”

What is Pension Credit?

Pension Credit is designed to help people over State Pension age and on a low income with daily living costs, though you do not need to be in receipt of State Pension to receive it.

It tops up a person’s income to a minimum of £218.15 per week for single pensioners and to £332.95 for couples.

You could get an extra £81 a week if you claim any of the following disability benefits:

  • Attendance Allowance
  • the middle or highest rate from the care component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP)
  • Armed Forces Independence Payment
  • the daily living component of Adult Disability Payment (ADP) at the standard or enhanced rate

Currently, around 1.4 million pensioners in Britain receive Pension Credit. However, many are still not claiming this extra financial help.

Other benefits are also available to those on pension credit such as assistance with housing and council tax costs, as well as scoring extra help with heating bills.

Am I eligible for a free TV Licence?

For those of us aged 75 or over who are in receipt of Pension Credit, the TV Licence can be obtained for free rather than costing £169.50.

Guidance from TV Licensing says: “Free TV Licences are only available if you’re 75 or over and you, or your partner living at the same address, are receiving Pension Credit.

“If you think you’re eligible for a free licence but can’t apply online, please call 0300 790 6117* and speak to one of our advisors to request an application form (our lines are open between 8.30am and 6.30pm, from Monday to Friday).

“Once we’ve received your application it may take a few weeks to process. If there are any problems we’ll write to let you know. We may also call you if you have given us your phone number.

“There are separate arrangements in place for over 75s on the Isle of Man, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey.”